Art Quiz: The Answer is Kakemono

Even though I love Japanese art, I wasn’t familiar with the term kakemono. According to Wikipedia, the word means hanging thing, and it describes scrolls used to display paintings and calligraphy inscriptions.

A previous “art quiz” question focused on scroll painting, showing both Chinese and Japanese scrolls. Included in that post was a link to Japanese Illustrated Handscrolls. Handscrolls are horizontal, whereas hanging scrolls, quite obviously, are vertical.

From The Cleveland Museum of Art, I found this information:

Scroll painting can be loosely categorized into two types: landscape and narrative. Poetry and calligraphy often accompany the scenes to evoke and enhance the subject in question. The earliest Chinese scrolls date from the late 4th century, and were mainly used as Buddhist teaching tools. The continuous scroll form was fully developed by the Tang dynasty. During the Tang dynasty figure and narrative painting was considered more prestigious than landscape genre. However, this hierarchy was reversed during the Song and Yuan dynasty.

Japanese scroll painting had its origins in the Chinese art but later evolved into its own form. A very good history of kakemono — or kakejiku as it is often known — can be found here at Art Nomura, a website dedicated to Japanese aesthetics.

Here you will find information on Japanese scroll painting from the earliest days of ancient China to the present. I found it interesting to read about “modern-day” Japanese hanging scrolls on the market today.

I learned that following World War II, once Japan’s economy recovered, there was a boom in home ownership. The site explains:

As a result, the number of households with Japanese-style rooms with alcoves increased rapidly and the demand for hanging scrolls rose dramatically. A wide range of painting themes came to be considered to meet the demand, and the techniques and artistic styles of hanging scrolls reached its zenith.

In the 1990’s however, that economic boom came to an end, and the popularity of hanging scroll art declined. Again, from Nomura:

It was also around this time that Japanese value began to change markedly, and that the number of houses without Japanese-style rooms with alcoves began to increase. In the midst of the simplification of traditional events, the demand for hanging scrolls is on the decline. The number of businesses dealing with hanging scrolls, which were set up during the high economic growth period, has also continued to decrease. The shortage of successors who manufacture hanging scrolls is a serious issue, which has led many businesses to close down.

What a long, interesting history! It is sad to think that these scroll hangings have diminished in popularity now, but trends in art change, and perhaps one day soon Japanese kakemono art will flourish once again.

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